Sexual Liberation or Infidelity Hell?

blog - Ashley Madison 1

“You have no right to judge me.” Or so I’ve been told.

Truth is, they’re right. As a sinner saved by grace I am in no position to cast any stones of condemnation. The rationale as to WHY I shouldn’t be judging, however, is where the debate comes in.

Yesterday’s reasoning for abstaining from judgment was because I too was a sinner and therefore didn’t have the right to suggest I’m better. We’ll call this the moral hypocrisy argument. Again, I don’t disagree. But that’s not today’s rationale. Today, in the 21st century, the logic we’re generally fed for why it’s inappropriate to make moral judgments about others is because everyone is responsible for forming their own truth. At least that’s the current cultural assumption. Do what you want to do, be true to yourself, just don’t hurt anyone along the way. This is the moral relativism argument.

This is something of a hollowed out Golden Rule and is fairly clever. It sounds nice and is probably the best case you can make for morality apart from God.

But, with just a little thought, the average person can recognize that moral relativism doesn’t work.

If everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt?

Take something as commonplace today as pornography usage.

We now have 20 years of research on the effects of internet pornography, a generation of people largely educated by the public to believe that porn was a legitimate “safe sex” alternative to engaging in more risky sexual behavior. It wasn’t just a victimless crime. It was touted as a “healthy” alternative.

Today, we know that approximately 80% of young adult men, 70% of middle-aged men, and 50% of older adult men admit to accessing pornography on some sort of regular basis (Pornography usage numbers, by the way, are often considered by experts to be notoriously underreported, i.e. it could be higher.). Couple this regularity with the tidal wave of research that says pornography consumption leads to a vastly heightened prevalence of sexual addiction, sexual dysfunction, more graphic, illegal, and abusive sexual practices, the devaluation of monogamy and child rearing, and quite predictably, the likelihood of an affair. In 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported the following as the most salient factors present in divorce cases:– 68% of the divorces involved one party meeting a new lover over the Internet.– 56% involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” (A nice comprehensive summary of some of the best research can be found here.)

The recent Ashley Madison hack has brought to light exactly what an absolute hell pornography is. If you somehow haven’t heard by now, Ashley Madison is a Canadian based website that facilitates adultery for its users, under the theme Life is short. Have an affair. The site had roughly 40 million users.

Let’s put that into perspective. The majority of users obviously came from the U.S. and Canada, the combined population of which is 350 million. A little less than half of those are male, approximately 170 million. The youngest of those (under 18) are ineligible to be users, and the oldest of those (over 60) are significantly less likely. That group accounts for half the male population, which, when subtracted, is now down to 85 million. Again, Ashley Madison had 40 million users. The site’s members were obviously not all male, but this suggests how insanely quietly common this site was – a website that was the natural step for porn users who had “become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Eph. 4:19 ESV) The NIV84 translates that last part as “a continual lust for more.” That does a great job of capturing the nature of addiction – what worked yesterday to offer me a high is going to be need to be ratcheted up in order to deliver the same payoff today. The vast majority of extramarital trysts today are preceded by pornography usage, and often, addiction. Addiction is slavery, and this sort of sex addiction is some sort of shameful infidelity hell. Keep in mind, Ashley Madison is JUST ONE WEBSITE! This can’t even possibly account for much more than a fraction of all American infidelity!

So let’s back up a step. Are the only ones “hurt” in all this the Josh Duggars and Sam Raders – i.e. the high-profile Christians who weren’t true to their stated convictions that such behavior was wrong? Or are the millions and millions of wives and husbands and children who are affected by this, regardless of their stance on pornography and sexual liberation, also harmed? Not to mention the guilty parties themselves, who are now left ashamed, crippled with guilt, and trying to sort through the debris of relational devastation they’ve caused. Two suicides related to the hack have already been confirmed.

The fact that mainstream media’s first impulse in this case was to report on the potential links to members of the military, Congress, and the White House, shows the media’s inability to grasp the widespread relational significance of this information. The secular world right now does not know what sin is, or what to do with it.

Less than two months ago, as a country, we officially redefined marriage. And now, in part, we know why. Because nationally, at least in practice, we apparently HATE the biblical design for monogamous, faithful, Christ-centered marriage.

The cultural command is…everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone. Again, I ask, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt? It certainly seems like millions are now hurting because of the relative morality dictum.

So, I’m suggesting we reconsider.

Relative morality does not work. Darwinian amorality, where everyone does whatever they see fit, even if it does involve willfully hurting others, would end civilization. The third option, the only option left, is universal morality. And the absolute truth that teaches universal morality can only be found outside of us, in divine revelation. It would make sense for us to once again revisit such an option at a time like this.

Since universal truth is, by definition, timeless, it is unchanging. This is why Jesus, thousands of years after Creation, can reaffirm God’s design for human sexuality:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)

Moving back to that paradigm WOULD CAUSE LESS HURT. No more pornography. No more hook ups. No more cohabitation. No more infidelity. I guarantee we’d be happier, healthier, and more satisfied. We’d hurt less.

But renewed effort, redirected goals, and godly guidelines won’t atone for our mistakes. For that we also need divine intervention.

So, for all who have been hurt by the slavery packaged as “sexual liberation,” the Bible also has a wealth of comfort.

Amazingly, God himself also knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt by unfaithfulness. God even specifically had his prophet Hosea take a cheating wife, Gomer, to illustrate to his people that he knew what it was like to be devastated by (spiritual) philandering. When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

We have a God who has been cheated on. And he has all the power in the universe at his disposal to heal us of our wounds and free us from our slavery. He also has enough love to pay the price to separate our sins of unfaithfulness from us, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

Now he guides us to a more beautiful design for human sexuality.

What would it look like if we all really believed that?

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What does it mean to BELIEVE?

(image credit to atacrossroads.net)

(image credit to atacrossroads.net)

Belief is essential to saving, Christian faith. No real debate here amongst Christians. Jesus said, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16). Even more famously, he said that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is all Christianity 101.

Here’s the kicker though – what does it really mean to BELIEVE?

I was reminded while teaching Bible Study this past week as well as while watching the recently released Do You Believe? of how much Christians still really struggle with the nature of belief. This is fairly understandable when you consider how the meaning of the word “believe” has changed drastically over time. (NOTE: for our purposes here today, I’m going to use the words “faith” and “belief” interchangeably.)

The best explanation I think I’ve heard of “religious believing” was given by Diana Butler Bass:

Latin used credo, “I set my heart upon” or “I give my loyalty to,” as the word to describe religious “believing,” that is, “faith.” … Thus, in previous centuries, belief had nothing to do with one’s weighing of evidence or intellectual choice. Belief was not a doctrinal test. Instead, belief was more like a marriage vow – “I do” as a pledge of faithfulness and loving service to and with the other. (Christianity After Religion, pg. 117)

According to Bass, if someone wanted to give their intellectual opinion in Latin (the language that shaped Western thought) that person would use the word opinor, not credo. Credo is the word from which we get “credit” and “credibility” which carry the idea of trustworthiness and confidence.

Perhaps it would help to see a definition offered right out of a Greek/English lexicon. Notice the description of pisteuo, the word generally translated into English as “believe.”

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So, from a Scriptural standpoint, it is impossible to believe without having functional trust in something/someone.

By the way, while not all of my readers here are Lutheran, many are. It’s probably of note then that Lutheran theologians have always understood this trust aspect as fundamental to faith too. Johannes Andreas Quenstedt said that there are three material parts of faith: knowledge, assent, and confidence (or trust) (TDP, pars IV, cap. VIII, sect. 1, thes. V, p 282).

To summarize then, someone might know a great deal about Jesus and even intellectually agree with most everything he says, but until they put their functional trust in him, they’re still unbelievers.

Let me give you a little more concrete of an illustration. If I was standing in front of you, next to a chair, would it be proper to say that I “believed” in the chair? Most modern people would say, “Well, yes, of course! You can see it right there. You can touch it.” But that is NOT at all the biblical definition of faith. To believe in that chair, in a biblical sense, would require me to put the full weight of myself and my life down into that chair. Until I do that, I don’t really have faith in the chair. blog - tiny chairGranted, as an average sized man, to sit down into a normal chair doesn’t require much faith. Nonetheless, it still requires some functional faith to place my weight in it, because it requires a belief in things yet unseen – i.e. I need to sit down before I can be certain that it will hold me. However, the less likely things appear according to my sensory perception, the more faith is required. So, for instance, for a 400 lb. man to sit down into one of those adorable preschooler “time out” chairs, now that requires greater belief.

There are all sorts of implications to this understanding of functional trust being an essential component to Christian faith. But, the bottom line is that this definition means we likely have a bunch of people in our society who consider themselves believers but are really what Dinesh D’Souza describes as “practical atheists.” He writes:

“Of course my neighbors do not think of themselves as atheist …. they may even consider themselves Christian, either because they were born that way or because they attend church occasionally. The distinguishing characteristic of these people is that they live as if God did not exist. God makes no difference in their lives.” (What’s So Great About Christianity, pg. 4)

Now, I want to be careful here. I fully recognize that only God can see clearly the line separating believers from unbelievers. We all stand on one side or the other of that line. Only God himself can truly discern the heart and know which side. But, if Jesus is accurate when he says, “By their fruit you will recognize (believers)” (Matt. 7:16, 20) then it’s at least a worthwhile endeavor for me as a Christian to examine where in my life I’m currently placing my functional, practical trust. Does my functional hope for the future rest on my diversified financial portfolio or on God’s promises to provide? Does my functional self-image rest on my perceived goodness relative to those around me or on my status as God’s redeemed child? Does my functional happiness rest in material, earthly comfort or in the affection offered me by the Almighty? Does my functional worthiness rest on how many friends I have, whether or not my parents approve of me, or if someone of the opposite sex finds me attractive or on the fact that the God who created them all accepts me? Yes, I recite the Apostles’ Creed along with many others on Sunday mornings, but where do I functionally find my security and identity, my meaning in life? What or Who do I BELIEVE will really deliver the goods in the end?

What does this mean?

There are a number of massive implications to this concept of functional faith. I’ll just share two.

1) Witness to “Christians.” Since the time of European Christendom, I’m not sure there has ever been a period or place as confused about who the Christians really are. I think, however, that it’s fair to say that a high percentage of people who would categorize themselves as Christian believers probably actually need to be witnessed to. I’m finding that this is particularly difficult for parents to accept when it comes to their grown children. The Christian parents did many things right in the upbringing, but the child is still yet to receive the faith as his/her own. The remedy is considerably more sophisticated than “yeah, they probably need to be in church more.” This is because the problem itself is complicated by the fact that those masquerading as Christians don’t consider themselves as having a belief problem – many categorize themselves as believers because they have intellectually offered their stamp of approval to some doctrine. I’m trying to make the case – that’s still not believing yet.

2) Repent for Lack of Trust. The knowledge, agreement, and trust elements of faith necessarily come in that order. In other words, someone will not believe unless they first have knowledge of the truth (Rom. 10:14). But, it’s possible to receive that knowledge and then reject it’s validity. So the next element is equally important. Not only must one have knowledge of the good news of Jesus, but agree that it is true. Most people in the world have heard the outline of Jesus’ saving work at some point, but the majority have also rejected it. For those who remain…many have heard the truth, believe it to be true, and yet still haven’t allowed the gospel to liberate them into a new life – one that is dictated more by God’s promises than man’s conventional wisdom. This last group is the group that many of us struggle in and has been characteristic of American Christianity for a number of years now. What do we do? We repent. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) How on earth am I ever going to love my enemies instead of seeking vengeance? How can I experience joy and contentment when circumstances look bleak? How do I maintain calm when the storms of life brew? Repent for lack of trust and dive back into God’s promises. Trust.

Motivation

Telling you to trust more won’t actually convince any of you to trust more. Showing you why you can trust Jesus more, however, will.

Before yelling “action”, every good director has to offer the actors their motivation for behaving the way they do in the scene. So what’s your motivation for trusting God?

When you and I held the fires of hell, the wrath of God’s judgment, up against Jesus, he nailed himself in place so as not to run away. You can trust a man who will not only endure hell for you but who also lives to tell about how even that won’t cause him to leave you (Matt. 28:20). You can trust him more than science, which lacks qualitative heart, and more than your feelings, which lack quantitative accuracy. You can sit the weight of your life down into the arms of a resurrected Savior.